“… by removing our demand, we’re sparing animals suffering that is beyond our worst imaginings. I do find it deeply motivating to realize that I can live my values every time I sit down to eat. St. Paul called on the faithful to pray ceaselessly. I like that every time I sit down to eat, I cast my lot for mercy, and against misery — for compassion, and against cruelty. Every meal becomes a prayer for a kinder and more just world.”
Bruce Friedrich of Farm Sanctuary
So you’re curious about going vegan?
Congratulations! You’re not only on a journey towards health and wellness, but a journey towards a more compassionate and purposeful lifestyle. Here is everything you need to know about basic vegan nutrition as you start your journey.
Recently my sister decided to try going vegan, and this post is dedicated to her. She was converted by a cashew alfredo with tofu spiced chicken recipe that I was working on. Truly. At the beginning of our visit, she had stated that she could never be vegan. After a serving of alfredo, she sat down with me and honestly asked why I was vegan. My dream of making someone think about their food choices through good cooking actually happened!
The first thing to know when going vegan, is that you are likely to have a mini health issue at some time. Contrary to almost everything that is on the internet, going vegan is not
- Easy as pie
You have an entire lifetime of nutritional knowledge to relearn! If, like me, you just switch with minimal research, certain health issues will pop up along the way. When those issues do pop up, the internet tends to take you to websites written by prominent vegan activists saying “No! Nothing is wrong with you at all because if you just eat whole vegetables everything will be fine.” This sounds absolutely ridiculous if you know you are actually having a nutritional issue. Now, all the credibility of these websites is forfeit, and it is easy to conclude that going vegetarian or vegan is impossible.
The key to surviving these small health issues is to not be discouraged by zealots from either side, and to do thorough research and self-experiments. Below I will list everything that I have learned, which is a very good baseline for anyone starting to go vegan. For any other information, please e-mail me, comment, or (and I highly suggest this) get a vegan nutrition book from your local library. My favorite is Becoming Vegan, by Brenda Davies and Vesanto Melina.
- Fat is important
This first thing I noticed when going vegetarian, was how irresistibly I was pulled towards the ice cream bar. I felt like I NEEDED ice cream for some reason. Why? It wasn’t until I tried a french fry, and it was ambrosia, did I realize how much fat meat has. When I cut out meat from my diet, and stuck to my old low-fat diet, I wasn’t eating enough fat to be healthy. The average person needs about 15-20% of their calories to come from fat, and this supports healthy nerve/brain functioning, energy production, healthy skin, and the storage of fat soluble vitamins.
Healthy vegan sources of fat include olive oil, avocados, coconut oil, and nuts/seeds. I consume at least 1 cup of olive oil a week. If you are ever craving meat, you are likely craving fat, so have a nice helping of avocado toast, or a bowl of kale sautéed in olive oil and crushed garlic instead!
Another nutrient that meat has in abundance is potassium. Eating locally, I gave up bananas around the same time when I gave up meat. About a half a year later, I started to have the achy muscles, nausea, and light headedness associated with hypokalaemia, or low potassium. It was actually a trainer for the Swarthmore Women’s Lacrosse Team who finally diagnosed my issue. I started eating bananas again and voila, problem gone! After some research, I incorporated more potatoes and black beans (both are high potassium foods) into my diet and was able to ditch the non-local bananas. Now that I know the symptoms of hypokalaemia, I simply use them as an excuse to eat some French Fries whenever I need to.
Gosh, will this vegan protein debate never end? Seriously, don’t worry about it! It you are eating a whole foods plant based diet that is calorically sufficient, you are getting enough protein. However, if you are worried about it (and even if you aren’t) I suggest Vega Protein Shakes. Developed by world class vegan athlete Brendan Brazier, these shakes have high quality vegan protein and all the amino acids that your vegan diet might be lacking in. If you are athletic, consume ½-1 serving a day. If you are not, 3 a week should suffice for a healthy, and tasty, supplement. Make sure to get the sport version. My favorite is the chocolate!
I also have to say, I just discovered that vega has a blog. And it looks like a good one. Score!!!!
Iron will not be a problem for anyone who eats tons of greens. However, if you live life on the go, or maybe are on a budget like me and can’t guarantee that you are getting enough greens, I suggest a multivitamin with 100% iron. Everyone should be taking one multivitamin anyway, so why not get one with iron in it?
- Omega Threes
Omega threes are important for many things, including brain function (which I find very necessary, and you should too!) There are three types of omega threes (go figure).
- ALA – alpha-linolenic acid; found in a wide range of foods like flax seed, walnuts, and brussel sprouts
- EPA – eicosapentaenoic acid; found mainly in fish
- DHA – docosahexaenoic acid; found mainly in fish
As you can see, there are not very many natural sources of EPA and DHA. ALA is what is contained for the most part in flax seed, or any other high in omega threes vegetarian food. Lucky for us, the body can convert ALA into EPA and some DHA, however, in order to have the DHA levels of a non-vegetarian, you should be consuming about 300mg per day of DHA. This is easily obtained from vegan omega three supplements that contain DHA, like this one!
For more information, check out my blog post on omega threes.
- Vitamin B12
Everyone needs B vitamins, as they support the growth and function of new cells. Vegans can get every B vitamin but B12 from plant based sources. Vega has a great article on it! A tasty source of B vitamins is nutritional yeast, which wonderful in vegan mac and cheese! In regards to vitamin B12, a supplement is necessary, such as this B12 spray.
We all know what calcium is good for, and why we need it. Certain sites will state that you get all the calcium you need from vegetables. However, the recommended dosage is at least 1,000 mg of a calcium a day, and most greens having about 100mg per cup. That is 10 cups of leafy greens a day! I am sorry, but I am a girl on a budget. I only get 4-5 servings of fruits and veggies a day, and 10 cups is way over my price limit right now. Maybe one day I will be that cool, but not today.
As it turns out, all food has a little bit of calcium in it, and I’ve found that as long as I get 500-600 grams of calcium from leafy greens, molasses, and fortified foods, I tend to make up the rest in bits and pieces throughout the day. My current calcium regimen includes 2 tablespoons of blackstrap molasses and 1 cup of fortified vegan milk a day, which gives me about 650 mg. For more information, you can read my blog post on vegan calcium here.
Last but not least, vegans produce less creatine than non-vegans. This is great for endurance athletes, but not so great if you are trying to increase muscle bulk. If you are a serious athlete, consider a vegan creatine supplement, as mentioned in this article about vegans and creatine.
Review: Vegan Starter kit
Multivitamin with 100% iron
B12 supplement, preferably a spray
DHA omega 3 supplement from algae
Vegan Protein Shakes, Sport
Calcium (molasses, tons of greens, or a supplement)
Creatine (non-endurance athletes only)
Let’s finish up with some vegan inspiration!
USA Today did an article reporting that each meat-eating individual consumes 7,000 animals over their lifetime. That’s a lot of death for one life. Here’s to preserving life, and living our own very best, and most compassionate, life!
This Week in Updates: Fun with Jennifer
This week was interesting, as I both got back to work and I am having my last few days with my sister. We see each other so rarely, so these trips are really a wonderful opportunity to get to know each other as adults, not just as sisters. She changes so much every year! I feel the same, but she repeatedly has said “mind blown” on this trip, so I guess I change too. We have walked around rose gardens, old town, designed pokemon together, and I got to share with her some cooking tips and tricks. We talked about life, photography, future plans, and of course relationships. We are very different, but we still appreciate all our time together.
The Recipe: Vegan Cashew Alfredo with Chicken Spiced Tofu
Thanks to One Green Planet for the tofu marinade idea!
This tasty alfredo is what made my sister Jennifer want to go vegan! The creaminess of the cashews perfectly compliments this savory marinated tofu, for a dish that you won't forget! In regards to the cost, the pasta was $3, tofu was $4, cashew butter $4, and spices/soy sauce $2, and vegan milk $2. That's $15 for 7 very filling servings. Goes wonderfully with broccoli.
- For the Pasta:
- 1 package wheat pasta
- 1 tsp rosemary
- 1 tsp garlic powder
- 1 tsp onion powder
- 2 tbs nutritional yeast
- 2 cups vegan milk
- 1 cup water
- 1/2 cup cashew butter
- 4 tbs corn starch (or tapioca powder)
- For the tofu:
- 25 oz tofu
- 8 tbs water
- 4 tbs soy sauce
- 2 tsp onion powder
- 2 tsp garlic
- 2 tsp nutritional yeast
- 1 tsp thyme
- 1 tsp basil
- 1 tsp paprika
- sprinkle of salt
- The first thing you need to do is marinate the tofu. Cut the tofu into bite size chunks, and mix with all the tofu spices, water, and soy sauce. Let sit, covered, for 6-24 hours.
- To bake tofu, grease a baking sheet with olive oil, and place tofu on the baking sheet. Cover with leftover marinade, and bake for 10-15 minutes on 350, then stir and repeat on the other side. Tofu should be brown and crispy on the outside.
- Make the pasta according to the instructions. For the sauce, combine all pasta ingredients in the blender and blend. Mix sauce with hot pasta, then top with the tofu and enjoy!